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We have been talking a lot about “happiness” in Jewish education lately. Let’s begin by owning that the term “happiness” is challenging. In our vernacular it has a shallow and trivial connotation. As Toni Morrison, speaking to college graduates, said: “I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough.”
When we talk about “happiness” as a new thrust for Jewish education, as suggested by Dr. David Bryfman and Dr. Scott Aaron, what are we actually talking about? The scientific field of Positive Psychology uses the term “authentic happiness” or “flourishing” for the very reason I shared above. Different than a superficial and fleeting happiness, flourishing is defined by Fredrickson & Losada in American Psychologist as living “within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience.” This isn’t a shallow happiness – it is a deep and connected awareness not only of ourselves but of everyone around us.
Prior to the field of Positive Psychology and studies around growth mindset, scientist believed that either you were a positive, optimistic and happy person, or you were not. However, with these new studies, psychologists now believe that the ability to flourish is not only something innate from birth but that we can actually be taught to flourish.